"A few were interested in Mesmerism; and those of us who had the power to make ourselves en rapport with others tried experiments on "subjects," and sometimes held meetings in the evening for that purpose."
- Harriet Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle; or, Life among the Early Mill Girls
Mesmerism, also known as animal magnetism, was a hot topic in New England during this period of history. It attracted public interest and gave the people hope that there were ways to control things that up to this point seemed beyond human control. In addition, there is an interesting history of Mesmerism in Lowell.
The 19th-Century Pseudo-Science Trend That Gave Us ‘Animal Magnetism’
By Promising a Pathway to the Unconscious, Mesmerism Captivated the Public and Intellectuals Alike
By Deborah Manson | ZÓCALO PUBLIC SQUARE.
Charles Poyen timeline
Date of birth – unknown
1832 – Poyen develops a complicated illness
After 8 months of illness – first experience with mesmerism
1833 – sailed to French West Indies
14 months in the French West Indies
Late 1834 – sailed to Portland, Maine then went to Haverhill for 5 months
Moved to Lowell to teach French and drawing
from the Lowell Directory 1836
Late 1835 – discussion with Dr. Bartlett (not yet mayor of Lowell)
Tried and failed to get a book published in Boston
Returned to Lowell to write four speeches that were to be given in Boston
January 1836 – lecturing in Boston
February 1836 – his first publication on mesmerism in the Feb. 10 issue of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (this journal continued to publish notices and comments about Poyen’s activities for two years
June 1836 – Poyen’s first published book, a translation of Report on the magnetical experiments made by the Commission of the Royal Academy of Medicine, of Paris with an introduction by Poyen
August 1836 - Lectured in Bangor, Maine
September 1836 – accepted invitation of Dr. Niles Manchester to visit Pawtucket, Rhode Island
November 5, 1836 – meets and attempts to magnetize Miss Cynthia Ann Gleason,
Two-month stay in Providence. Miss Gleason’s health improves
January 1837 – demonstration in Boston to leading physicians, 2nd demonstration at Harvard Medical School to faculty
March 6, 1837 – “experiments” at the home of Alexander Wright in Lowell
Saturday March 25, 1837 – more “experiments” at the home of Alexander Wright in Lowell
March 31st, 1837 – Testimonies printed in the Lowell Advertiser
Six months of lectures and demonstrations in New England
August 1837 – lecture tour ends
1837 - Progress of animal magnetism in New England published
Mr. Alexander Wright, agent of the carpet manufactory, is, I believe, the only person in this place who was perseverant and earnest in investigating the claims of Animal Magnetism. I have already presented a long certificate signed by him, in which he briefly states the results of his experiments, and pronounces, after careful examination, Animal Magnetism to be a true science. Those who are well acquainted with Mr. Wright, will give to his opinion its due weight and value. His reputation as an intelligent, upright, honorable man, is surpassed by that of no other in the community in which he lives. I hope that he will be induced, at some future period, and when his occupations allow him, to give to the public a detailed account of some of his experiments. They will show that Mr. Wright unites, to a profound sense of delicacy and benevolence, a talent of observation, and shrewdness of mind, which are not, by any means, frequently met with, even in the conceited esprits forts who so boldly deny the reality of Animal Magnetism, because they consider all the professors of this science as fools, who have suffered themselves to be imposed upon by some cunning women! Among those whom Mr. A. Wright has succeeded in putting into the magnetic sleep, I will name two, who are, at least, in the opinion of all those
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who have heard of them, above suspicion of deception. Capt. Calvert, an overseer in the Lowell carpet manufactory, and Samuel H. M_____ , Esq., one of the most intelligent, active, and popular lawyers of the same city. So complete was the magnetic sleep into which Mr. M was thrown, contrary to his expectation, and against his own will, that he is now as much convinced of the truth of Magnetism, as of his own existence! His family, who had been hitherto skeptical on the matter, could hardly believe their own eyes, on seeing him so profoundly plunged in the mysterious slumber, and insensible to all external impressions! How much greater was their amazement on seeing him come to the natural state again, by a few insignificant gestures made by the operator at some distance from bis face!
Certificate of Dr. E. Bartlett, mayor of the city of Lowell, and professor at the medical institution of Pittsfield, Berkshire county.
During my residence at Lowell, I performed a series of experiments expressly for the mayor of the city, Dr. Elisha Bartlett, whose reputation as a scholar and a physician ranks among the very first in New England. The following is a certificate he gave me, after witnessing my experiments: —
Lowell, March 31, 1837.
MONS. POYEN, ------
“Dear Sir, — I am perfectly willing to comply with your request, that I should state my opinion of Animal Magnetism, so far as I have been able to form one from what I have seen of your experiments. You will remember that on the evening when these experiments were made, (the 6th inst.) at the house of our friend
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Alexander Wright, Esq., the only persons were Mr. and Mrs. Wright, Miss Gleason, yourself, and the writer. The experiments were made under my own direction, and they were successful, with the exception of one only. If there was no concealed understanding between the parties, they showed a very extraordinary and inexplicable power of the magnetizer oyer the magnetized; and as to the presence of any thing like an attempt to juggle or cheat, I can only say that I could discover no evidence of any such thing. So far as my limited means have justified me in forming an opinion upon the subject generally, it seems to me that it is worthy the further investigation of scientific men, and that this investigation should be prosecuted in a very careful and cautious manner. I take pleasure in adding, and this without any solicitation on your part, that so far as my acquaintance with you enables me to judge, I have never had any reason to doubt the entire honesty and sincerity of your own conduct and opinions in this matter.
I am, very respectfully, yours,
In the foregoing letter, Dr. Bartlett says, that the experiments were made under his own direction; that they were all successful but one; that he could not detect any collusion; that, finally, he believes me to be an honest man, and perfectly sincere in my pursuits. Yet, he says, also, “If there was no concealed understanding between the parties, &c." This, reader, will appear to you as an inconsistency. Perhaps it is so; but you must reflect that great men can never be too cautious; it is but just that they should keep a little crack open, to effect their escape, in case that the great collective being, from whom popularity and honors emanate — I
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mean the public — should make a call upon them and inquire of their opinions!
I can affirm, however, that of all the great men of the day, Dr. B. is one of the most liberal, amiable, ready to examine any matter of science whatever. Since writing the above certificate, he has acquired stronger evidence than he bad then, of the truth of Magnetism. He has himself magnetized, to the satisfaction of his mind, a respectable young lady, at the house of our common friend Alexander Wright, Esq. I hope that when the science is well established, he will fearlessly, and generously, publish what he has observed, and what he believes! I hope that all other great men, who now keep their convictions within their own bosom, will also bear testimony to the truth, when the stormy clouds, which are now hanging over our heads, shall have passed over.
From the Lowell Advertiser of March 31st, 1837.
One of the undersigned, Mr. Alexander Wright, agent of the carpet manufactory of this city, feeling a lively interest in Animal Magnetism, and wishing to have in his possession some facts of a very conclusive character, to oppose to the incredulity which generally prevails on this subject, asked me to make a few experiments at his own house, where he intended to invite, to witness them, some influential gentlemen, well known in this community for their cautiousness and talent of observation, but, at the same time, for their fairness and independence of mind, and who would be willing to testify for the facts that they would see.
I assented to Mr. Wright's proposition with much pleasure and eagerness. Saturday last, 25th inst, was
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the day appointed for the experiments. The gentlemen invited were, Dr. J. Fox, Dr. W. Duesbury, Messrs. O. Brownell, superintendent of the machine shop, G. Motley, agent of the Appleton Mills, Ch. Tilden, Maj. S. A. Coburn, the city clerk, E. Case, the Postmaster, J. Nesmith, L. Huntress, the editor of the Lowell Courier, and R. Southwick.
According to Mr. Wright's suggestion, Miss G., the somnambulist, was to be put to sleep, at a time prescribed by the committee of gentlemen, and in a manner of which she could not be aware by any of her senses. In order to accomplish this purpose, the following plan was adopted. On the day above mentioned, towards four o'clock, Mr. Wright resorted to my lodgings, and took with him, in his carriage, Miss G. alone, who was, says he, going to spend the afternoon at his house with a few other ladies. Before retiring, he said that he would come again, and take me at another moment, in the evening.
Indeed, towards twenty minutes after seven o'clock, Mr. W. called for me in his chaise. In order to avoid that Miss G. should have any knowledge of my arrival at the house, Mr. W. introduced me therein through the back door, which is situated far from the parlor, in which the somnambulist was sitting, together with the other ladies. I entered, stepping as lightly as possible, into a room where the gentlemen were assembled for nearly one hour. I did not even bid good evening verbally to the company, in order to avoid giving any motive of suspicion whatever. The room in which we were was separated from the other parlor by a folding-door, closed so tightly that no ray of light could penetrate through the crack. A few moments after my entering, a gentleman handed to me a bit of paper with these words written on it: “Please to commence mag-
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netizing Miss G. from this room, four minutes after reading this." I stood in silence near the fire-place, while the general conversation and moving about was going on. It is essential to state here, that among the ladies present, in the next parlor, one, only, Mrs. Wright, was informed of the plan: she had not spoken a word about it. The other ladies, as well as Miss G. herself, were expecting that I would come in through the front door, and enter their apartment together with the committee of gentlemen, in order to perform the experiment. Therefore, that which took place subsequently was entirely unexpected on their part. At the prescribed time, I stepped very lightly and stood at about one foot before the folding-door. A gentleman who had been looking, with great care not to be seen, through the window, from without, on purpose to ascertain where Miss G. was sitting, handed to me a bit of paper with these words: " he is sitting at about three feet from the door, her back turned toward you." Then I began to operate with great energy; yet it was very difficult for me to keep my mind attentive to the object and strongly directed on a single point, on account of the moving and conversation that was going on both behind and before me; for the ladies, being not aware of the operation, continued talking loud in the other room. After 8 minutes of action, I stopped for some moments. A gentleman, who had been looking through the window, told me that the patient was leaning her head against her hand — that she appeared very drowsy, and was making evident efforts to keep awake. Another person indicated to me the precise place where she was sitting. I resumed the operation, and continued it for about ten or twelve minutes. I ceased again, as I felt very much fatigued. Then a lady, Mrs. W., came out and told us that Miss G.'s eyes
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were shut, and that she could not answer the questions put to her: we learnt, also, from Mrs. W. (and it was afterwards confirmed by the other ladies,) that Miss G. bad felt sleepy in a very few minutes after I had commenced magnetizing her ; that she had even made an apology for it; that, finally, she would have gone to sleep very soon, if the other ladies had not tried to keep her awake by talking constantly to her. Immediately after hearing the foregoing particulars, the gentlemen entered the other apartment and found the patient on the rocking-chair, her eyes shut, and in the posture of a person quietly delivered up to the natural sleep. They shook her hands, tickled her face, spoke to her, but without producing any effect. She was, indeed, in the magnetic sleep. Every one of the company declared that this experiment had been very fairly done, and was perfectly satisfactory. After it was sufficiently ascertained that Miss G. was in the magnetic state, and could not answer any body, I approached her, and proposed to her, in a low voice, several questions, which she answered readily, and correctly. A few moments afterwards the gentlemen proceeded to the following experiments : —
A bit of paper was handed to me, with this command written on it: "Make her give you her hand." A gentleman standing behind her, passed his hands over both her eyes, in order to prevent collusion, supposing that there could be any. I stood at about one foot distant from the somnambulist, stretched my hand towards her, without touching, and requested her, mentally, to
shake hands with me. Soon she moved her fingers, opened her hand, and grasped at mine. This experiment was declared very clear and satisfactory.
The gentlemen wishing to see the same performed again, for their complete satisfaction, I repeated the ex-
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periment with equal success. I noticed, however, that this time no bandage was held over the somnambulist's eyes. A gentle man told me afterwards that this same experiment had been tried over again, in order to know whether the same effects could be produced without the application of the hands on Miss G.'s eyes, as it had been objected by some that the application might have been a signal agreed upon between me and her.
A few moments after, another piece of paper was passed to me with the words "make her open her eyes, standing behind her." I took the position in perfect silence, and without moving. In the first place, the somnambulist put her head straight, and says, as if she had heard a voice, "Speak a little louder!" (every one present may testify that I did not move my lips.) Then she opened her lids and kept them so, perfectly still for some moments, although a lamp was brought near them, and several quick motions made, in rapid succession, towards them, by a gentleman. Then 1 passed behind, and caused the eyes to close again by a mental action.
The somnambulist having asked for some drink, Mr. N. took a tumbler and presented it to her, even put it in her hand, but she took no notice of him. The tumbler was handed to me, and, standing at about two feet from Miss G., I requested her, mentally, to take it; immediately she stretched her arm and grasped at it. After she had finished drinking, some gentlemen tried to take the tumbler from her; but she would not give it up to them, and pulled away their hand. I, standing on the same place, requested her, mentally, to give it to me, which she did instantly.
A gentleman handed to me a piece of paper on which this command was written: "Present to her the tumbler again, in willing that the water should be Rum for
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her." Accordingly, I magnetized the glass a minute or two, and requested, mentally, the somnambulist to take it, which she did immediately: after she had drank a few swallows, I asked her what it was; she answered, " Wine! will it make me dizzy!"
A gentleman having manifested the desire to be examined by Miss G., on his state of health, I put him in communication with her. She first took his pulse and said how it was! Then carried her right hand lightly over his chest and sides, her eyes remaining perfectly shut and still. Then she said that this gentleman was not very sick; that, however, he must be subject to pains in his head ; that his liver was affected a little, the upper and posterior parts of it being very light-colored, (two shades lighter than the rest of the organ ;) that, in consequence of the state of the liver, he must have pains in his right side ; that his lungs and stomach were sound ; that his blood was neither of the best nor of the worst kind; that he was subject to jaundice. Q. "Have I any pain in my left side?" A. " I have not looked at it yet." Then, after touching the part, she said, in shaking her head, " Yes, you have pain in this side, but not so much as in the right. You ought to take something to physic your blood and cure your liver! " Then the somnambulist indicated several remedies, not chemical ones, but extracted from the vegetable kingdom, and which she might have heard of before, as they are often used in this country. The prescriptions were declared, by the medical gentlemen then present, very proper, both for the nature of the plants, the quantity, and the manner in which they should be taken.
The somnambulist, making a deep sigh, and passing her hand on the pit of her stomach, with an expression of pain, said, "I believe that I am now a great deal
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sicker than you are," and left the gentleman's hand. Then I asked her what was the gentleman's complexion ? "Dark!"
The consultation being finished, Mr. ______ got up and declared that he was much satisfied with the somnambulist's answers ; that, indeed, he had pains, at times, in his head, but more particularly in his right side, which sometimes perplexed him very much; that he was subject to jaundice, being naturally very bilious! Mr. is of a very dark complexion.
Shortly after this last experiment^ I announced that I was going to awake the somnambulist, I approached her, and told her to awake in six minutes, precisely. She answered, "Very well." Then I retired the length of the room, and asked, in a very low voice, a gentleman to tell me which arm he wished I should strike with paralysis ? "The right." While another person was holding a bandage over Miss G.'s eyes, I carried my hand, without touching, four or five times over her right arm, with the intention of paralyzing it. I ceased. We waited in silence. As the needle was making the sixth minute, by the watch of a bystander, the somnambulist began to move, and stretched her left arm — the right did not stir. Within half of a minute she opened her eyes, and appeared perfectly awake. Then she moved again her left arm, rubbed her eyes and forehead— the right remained still. A gentleman approached, put her several questions, which she answered, and requested her to shake hands with him; she presented her left hand. “I want the right," said the gentleman. "I cannot stir it; it is powerless and insensible, sir."
A few moments having elapsed, I restored the paralyzed arm, simply by making a few passes over it.
Such are the facts that took place. And I may af-
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firm, that in the opinion of every candid and honest-hearted man, they are conclude enough to allow my estimable friend, Alexander Wright, to applaud himself for not having blindly yielded to the general incredulity, and for having given his earnest and disinterested support to a science that will prove hereafter so useful in many important ways. C P.
"The undersigned certify that they have attended the experiments in Animal Magnetism, (performed at Mr. Alexander Wright's house, on the 25th inst.; that the statement above presented, by Mons. Ch. Poyen, is correct, and that it was not possible for them to detect
any collusion, whatever, between him and the magnetized person. They also declare that Mons. P. conducted himself in a manner creditable to himself, and calculated to inspire confidence in the integrity of his moral character.
Alex. Wright, W. Duesbury,
George Brownell, Geo. Motley,
Samuel A. Coburn, Leonard Huntress,
Chas. L. Tilden, John Nesmith.”
Certificate of E. Case, Postmaster, of Lowell, Mass.
Lowell, March 29th, 1837.
"To Mons. Ch. Poyen.
"Sir, — Having been requested by you to express an opinion of your experiments in Animal Magnetism, at the house of Alexander Wright, Esq., on the evening of the 25th inst., I will cheerfully and frankly state that I attended on said evening, at Mr. Wright's request, with the understanding that, if desired, the opinion you ask should be given.
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"So far as I know or believe, the experiments were fairly conducted, and, with one exception, entirely successful. There was not the slightest appearance of collusion between the magnetizer and the person magnetized. The experiments were all entirely new to me, and before giving an opinion of the nature, or even cause of " the magnetic sleep,” 1 should wish to make further observations. It was, however, something different, in its appearance and effects, from any thing I had before witnessed. Yours, truly,
Hypnotism grew out of mesmerism, but practitioners of hypnotism deliberately avoided the pseudoscience of animal magnetism focusing on observable psychological and physiological responses.
Why was animal magnetism controversial in Poyen's day? Why is hypnotism controversial today?